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Terrapin 'gardens' being constructed along inland bays

Center for the Inland Bays staff used 22 tons of sand in the garden.

The first of several terrapin "gardens" has been constructed in Delaware Seashore State Park.

The Delaware Center for the Inland Bays is creating the gardens, which are strategically-placed sandy patches. They are designed specifically to provide safe habitats for diamondback terrapin females to lay their eggs.

Without the gardens, the terrapins may be forced to cross busy roads, including Route 1, to find a suitable place to nest. Terrapin nesting habitats are becoming increasingly scarce due to coastal development, and females are frequently struck by vehicles while attempting to cross roadways. 

The Center is constructing a series of terrapin gardens in response to these issues, with support from the Pegasus Foundation, the Pettus-Crowe Foundation and the Diamondback Terrapin Working Group.

The pilot garden was finished June 9 along the Indian River Bay. It was monitored throughout the summer but no nests were found, which is common during the first year.

Two more terrapin gardens will be constructed in 2021, in collaboration with housing communities on the bays.

An interpretive sign will help visitors understand the garden's purpose.

The Center’s long-term goal is to expand the project, supporting terrapin nesting activity in the Inland Bays while also providing outdoor interpretive sites that engage the public.

“In addition to providing much needed nesting habitat, these gardens will serve as an opportunity to shed light on some of the greatest threats that terrapins face - particularly linked to human activity - and the importance of community engagement to protect populations in the inland bays,” says Lisa Swanger, the Center’s education and outreach coordinator. 

Diamondback terrapins are the only true estuarine turtles in North America, meaning they live in a mix of salt and fresh water. They spend their entire lives in bays, creeks and salt marshes.

They play an important role in helping to maintain healthy marsh ecosystems by eating salt marsh snails, which feed on smooth cordgrass. 

For more information, visit the Center for the Inland Bays website.